God Knows I Could Use the Lift

Dear Will:

On January 9th I stood in the Lihue airport on the island of Kauai and said goodbye—again—to my daughter Bryn. As you may recall, Bryn lives in Wellington where she dances for the Royal New Zealand Ballet. When she first moved there around 14 months ago, we were a little bit frightened and more than a little bit nervous, but we shared with her the eager anticipation that comes with adventure. She was only 19 but about to take on an exotic new job in an exotic location. For all of its attendant anxiety, the whole thing was very exciting for all of us.

A year later, much of that excitement has passed. The mystery is mostly gone, the unanswered questions mostly answered. And so the job is just a job, and the location, though still exotic, seems (somehow) much farther away. Our farewell in Lihue felt different as a consequence. Instead of eager anticipation for that first communication from afar, we stood there wondering when we might see our daughter again. We all cried. I didn’t like it.

I thought at the time of our many friends who have stood by similar ropes at similar airport security lines, sending their children off into the great unknown as they embark on full-time missions for our church. Within the last several months we have seen seven members of the Santiago Creek Ward head out to serve: in Washington, Texas, North Carolina, Chile, Scotland, Croatia, and New Zealand. All seven have left behind anxious loved ones. And all have left eager to serve.

In return, the Church has sent to the Santiago Creek Ward four exceptional young people from around the United States: Sister Laulusa (Ohio), Sister Longhurst (Idaho), Elder Long (Tennessee), and Elder Parent (Michigan). They are bright lights who are full of faith and dedication. More to the point, they carry with them the Spirit of God—you can feel it in their presence. And because they have been commissioned of Christ, if you spend any time with them at all and get a chance to hear their uplifting message of hope, one of three things is likely to happen:

  1. You will feel an increased closeness to God.
  2. You will gain a greater sense of peace and happiness.
  3. You will gain an increased understanding of your purpose in life.

I realize those are bold promises, but I do not make them casually or without basis. I’ve been around these young people, and I know. Which is why I suggest that if you are interested in any of the things I listed above, you should invite them into your home some time. It doesn’t have to be anything formal. Maybe you could just have them over for dinner or something and spend a few minutes getting to know them. Imagine drawing closer to God and receiving a greater sense of peace and happiness in exchange for a ham sandwich and cup of milk. That’s not a bad deal.

Just the other day, in fact, I was sitting at the office when a familiar song by Simon and Garfunkel came onto my computer’s music feed. It’s a song my daughter and I have sung often (and poorly) while sitting side-by-side at the family piano. The melody disrupted my concentration, and a great sense of melancholy settled over me as I thought about my girl and how long it might be before we’ll be seated side-by-side again. And while Sister Longhurst and Sister Laulusa may be poor surrogates for my own 20-year-old girl, that song seemed as good an excuse as any to invite them over—and soon. It would bless my family. And God knows I could use the lift.

PW

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As If It Were August

Dear Will:

I grew up in Redlands, California, in the sort of neighborhood you might not see these days anywhere outside of Leave It To Beaver. There were kids of every age up and down the street and around the corner. We spent our summers untethered, roaming the streets and yards and vacant lots with the freedom to go wherever our curiosity and imaginations might carry us.

A typical day in August started with obligatory chores, completed with a greater focus on speed than quality. Once released from our indentured servitude, we would head out to pick up wherever it was we left off the day before. We moved seamlessly from kick-the-can to Marco Polo to a game we called (quite accurately) Anythingball. We generally grabbed lunch at whichever house we found ourselves and then dashed off to The Big Tree or one of several secret forts where we would dream up mischief and new adventures.

In the midst of all of that fun, we fought—for sure—and argued every day, perhaps about the rules of this game or a bad call in that game. We would go from best friends to enemies to best friends again all over the course of a single afternoon. We played so hard that the smog would irritate our lungs and make it hard to breathe, but we were undaunted. It was summer, after all, and if we had hung around the house you can be sure that some grown-up would have found something “productive” for us to do.

We preferred to fill the time ourselves. We might grab a bat and a tennis ball and head for the nearby golf course to play work-ups in the fairway until the course marshal chased us off or until the daylight grew so dim we could no longer see the ball. Then perhaps we’d take up an all-neighborhood game of sardines that might have a dozen kids or more dangling from the branches of a single, teetering pine tree in somebody else’s yard. We invariably ended the day exhausted, with grass stains and scrapes, smelling like kids do when the fun has ended but the grins still remain.

Some days the fun ended earlier than others, but every day, from early morning till late afternoon or evening, my siblings and I played until our mother whistled us home. My mom had a shrill, powerful whistle that could be heard no matter where we were at any given moment. It was the two-finger dinner bell, the ultimate tweet, an ingeniously simple way for her to get all seven of us puppies back into the box.

In some respects, you and I and everyone are all still kids, doing the chores we have to but looking for energy and wonder to fill our days. There are, sometimes, injuries and hard feelings along the way, and occasionally we’ll be forced to make a midday run to the ER, but mostly what we’re hoping for is friendship and laughter. Joy. For all of the challenges and frustrations, the sadness and the heartache that may accompany our mortal existence, scripture tells us that joy is our ultimate purpose (2 Nephi 2:25)—it’s why we’re here. Sooner perhaps than most of us will like, the time will come when we’ll hear a distant whistle calling us home, but even then we’ll find family waiting for us there: Father and Mother and siblings. Joy beyond measure.

In the meantime, we should live each day as if it were August. Which, by the way, it is.

PW

The Sort of Thing Good Parents Do

Dear Will:

My daughter is standing beside me—right over there—waiting for me to make a difficult decision so that she doesn’t have to. It’s the sort of thing I do too often: I tell my kids what to do instead of letting them figure it out on their own. It’s one of the things that makes me an ineffective dad.

But tonight—ever so briefly—I actually exercised some restraint. It was an imperfect effort at best inasmuch as I started to tell her what to do before catching myself, but at least this time I showed a little more forbearance than usual. For once it occurred to me (as no doubt it occurs to most parents on a regular basis) to ask her to lay out for me her various options, even while knowing that none of them was any good. Then I asked her which solution sounded like the best one to her.

I know what you’re thinking: Duh. This is the sort of thing that good parents do. They guide their children and help them learn to make decisions for themselves. But what I too often do is swoop in to solve the problem for them, depriving them in the process of an opportunity to grow and learn. I read somewhere that we males have a strong tendency to do that in relationships. We’re always trying to fix things, even when no one has asked us for a fix. We come up with solutions at times when maybe we should just shut up and listen.

It occurs to me that this little family vignette—of absolutely no consequence in the eternal scheme of things—is really not all that different from the way God oversees the activities of his children in this world of ours. The cynic or the agnostic wonders why He doesn’t simply intervene in the affairs of men and women on earth, eliminating the suffering, counteracting evil, solving our problems for us. “If He’s all powerful,” the thinking goes, “then why does He allow so much bad stuff to happen?” The flaw to that reasoning, of course, is that it fails to recognize that life has much more purpose than to get us from birth to death without too much misery. In fact, we are here upon this earth to learn for ourselves, to grow and become, to face tests and challenges and (one hopes) come out the other side better people for the experience. Were God always to intervene—to solve our problems for us in the same way I tend to for my children—there wouldn’t be much point to our earthly existence at all.

Meanwhile, my daughter has picked up on some subtle behavioral clues (namely, that I’m typing and not talking to her any more) and she’s headed off down the hall, perhaps to mull over her options (or more likely to see if she can get my wife to make the decision for her instead). I think ultimately I know which way this is going to go—as God pretty much knows ahead of time what our next move will be as well. Hmmm. Perhaps there’s food for thought in that as well.

PW